Protecting the Vjosa, Europe's last wild river

Europe's last untamed river is threatened by over 30 hydropower projects
vjosa river
Photo: Andrew Burr

The Vjosa River is the last of its kind. The river and its tributaries flow uninterrupted from their headwaters in the mountains of Greece to Albania where the Vjosa empties into the Adriatic Sea. It is the only major wild river system that exists in Europe today and it has long been imperiled by hydropower projects that would destroy the culture and ecology of the regions the river courses through. Today, over 30 different hydropower projects are proposed on the Vjosa and its tributaries.

For more than the last decade, a unique alliance of local activists, international conservation groups, artists, scientists and everyday individuals have fought back against hydropower threats facing the Vjosa and have strived to permanently protect the river through the establishment of a wild river national park, which would be the first of its kind in all of Europe.

As part of that effort, outdoor apparel maker Patagonia recently introduced a six-minute short film entitled Vjosa Forever, which tells the story of the river, the perils it faces, and those fighting to protect it. Patagonia first introduced the Vjosa to international audiences in 2018, in the film Blue Heart, a full-length documentary which depicted the fight to protect the wild rivers of the Balkans (otherwise known as the ‘Blue Heart’ of Europe) from a staggering number of 3,400 proposed hydropower projects. Of the rivers and streams that flow through Europe's Blue Heart, the Vjosa is the largest and wildest.

Much of the Vjosa's fate is tied up in Albania's upcoming elections this April. Though the current administration announced in September 2020 its intention to establish protections for the Vjosa, activists and conservation groups close to the issue fear that those pledges may be degrading. Regardless, with the potential for a new government in little more than a month, what comes next for the Vjosa is intertwined with Albania's political future. It is around this reality that local and international conservation groups such as EcoAlbania, RiverWatch and EuroNatur, apparel maker Patagonia, and countless of the 94 percent of Albanians that support permanent protections for the Vjosa are rallying to demand the establishment of a wild river national park.

vjosa river
Photo: Andrew Burr

“The Vjosa miraculously survived the decades of destruction in Europe; it´s a gift to all of us. And it is, therefore, not only an Albanian responsibility to protect it, but also a European responsibility. This wild river national park would be an immense achievement for conservation efforts in Europe, and, at an EU level, it will make a real and significant contribution to the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the EU Green Deal," said Ulrich Eichelmann, CEO of Riverwatch.

To help raise awareness and call people to action, Patagonia released the short film, ‘Vjosa Forever’ and recently launched the social media campaign, #VjosaNationalParkNow. You can view the full film above.


I strongly support the Vjosa protection actions. Hydro power is a disgrace and an environmental disaster by many counts. In fact I advocate the tearing down of all existing dams. It is a retarded third world technology for regions with little or no choice to step up.
Just one thing though. Last wild river in Europe? In Sweden there's at least four....just sayin...